Attention, Persuasive Communication,
Lewis Donohew, Philip Palmgreen, Elizabeth Lorch,
Rick Zimmerman, and Nancy Harrington
University of Kentucky
Humans are not the consistently aware, thoughtful creatures we often assume them to be, at least not until we can engage them in some way and lure or jolt them into a higher level of awareness (Bardo, Donohew, & Harrington, 1998; Donohew, Lorch & Palmgreen, 1998). Thus, changing their health behaviors is a formidable task. On the basis of research to date, we take the position that the human decision-making process may or may not be “rational. ” Many individuals may be more likely to choose to be in situations or to engage in behaviors that are novel, reduce boredom, lead to disinhibition, or are thrilling or adventuresome. Beyond this, many of those who find themselves in these sorts of situations are less likely to act in ways that might be predicted by rational models of health-related behavior.
A central assumption of the research described in this chapter is that in order for health messages to be seriously attended, they must be capable of attracting and holding attention long enough for persuasive content, which might involve more rational decision-making (e.g., Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980) to be processed. This requires that they provide enough stimulation to generate a level of attention many implicitly assume is present all the time. Given growing evidence of the influence of biology on behavior, we posit a somewhat more primal human than is implicitly assumed in some of the theories of human behavior. Thus, for example, the presence or absence of immediate reward may play a greater role in changing behavior than is generally thought. The importance of immediate reward may signal a problem in changing health behaviors. Unlike the advertiser